Study Suggests How Corn Came to U.S.

Primary tabs

Study Suggests How Corn Came to U.S.

By Nick Weber, Digital Communications Manager, Monsanto
tweet me:
A new study might shed light on corn's history in the U.S. - @NewsfromScience @MonsantoCo
Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - 4:30pm


Have you ever wondered how corn made its way to the United States? Understanding the history of corn and the crop’s migration to the U.S. has long been a challenge, but a new study might help shed some light on the past.

The study highlights how corn traveled from Mexico to the United States, along with all of the changes that took place in the crop as early hunters and gatherers used selection – picking the best plants from the previous harvest for the next season’s planting.  Natural selection and traditional breeding together have improved the crop over time.

As reported in the magazine Science  “How corn became corn” by Lizzie Wade, the University of Copenhagen’s M. Thomas Gilbert and his colleagues released a report in Nature Plants on Jan. 8, “The origin and evolution of maize in the Southwestern United States.” The team studied 32 archaeological maize samples from the past 6,000 years. They found that the first foray of the crop into the United States came via the highlands of Mexico about 4,000 years ago; however, various genetic traits from Mexican Pacific Coast genetic lines eventually made their way into the maize plants. As an expert in Wade’s article suggests, farmers may have had challenges in growing early maize in the United States and began to select plants with genetic traits from the Pacific Coast region.

“Given the importance of our food crops in feeding a growing population, I continue to be fascinated by learning more about the evolution of maize. Early hunters and gatherers, and later farmers, were clearly selecting maize for beneficial traits to improve it as a food crop for thousands of years,” said Monsanto’s Sam Eathington, global plant breeding lead.

“Selecting for certain traits is an amazing task; even today with all of our tools, the early progress in improvement that was made is an important piece of the history of corn – a crop we on which we depend today.”

Crop selection that was done by early farmers has evolved into the science of plant breeding. The ultimate goal for today’s plant breeders is to improve genetic traits in seeds to help bring more food to harvest and feed a growing population.

Monsanto remains committed to the advancement and understanding of plant genetics to benefit broader society. For example, we worked with a broad network of leaders in the public and private sectors to create a clearer understanding of corn genetics, which resulted in the first mapping of the corn genome in the world in 2008. Monsanto also previously made its rice genetic data publically available to the worldwide research community to expand scientific knowledge and accelerate research projects with this important food crop.

For more information on traditional breeding, please visit:


Keywords: Ethical Production & Consumption | Corn | Education | Environment & Climate Change | Lizzie Wade | M. Thomas Gilbert | Monsanto | Nick Weber | Sam Eathington | Science | Technology